The road to controlling Kenya’s lucrative alcohol market has been anything but smooth. Backed by an overall 6.5% GDP growth in 2015, it is a growing market in a country where 22.8% of men and 9.6% of women consume alcohol, according to the World Health Organization.
In 2015, according to Euromonitor, players in the beer category actively engaged in marketing campaigns, and volume sales reached 466 million liters. But this growth wasn’t achieved easily.
In 1997, SAB Miller and East African Breweries Limited went to war with each other in what was eventually dubbed the “Beer Wars”, which lasted nearly five years. Eventually, in 2002, SAB Miller shut down its plants and exited the country. Today, the two main manufacturers of beer in Kenya are EABL and Keroche Breweries.
When Tabitha Karanja started Keroche Breweries with her husband in 1997, she had high hopes to give the lower end market an alternative drink to a legal brew. The only Kenyan-owned large-scale brewery in Kenya initially made fortified wine, and then eventually moved into spirits and beer. Its signature brand Summit proved so popular that she received a $50 million loan from Barclays in 2015 to expand production levels from 10 million liters per year to 110 million liters.
“We knew if we did 10-fold whatever we had done, we had a market, so this was this market. And the reason for this is because the beer is naturally brewed and it’s the first one to be done in this country.” Karanja says. “It has no sugar added. So, giving a choice to the people, that was more premium,” she reveals. But even with Keroche Breweries’ expansion, it only controls 2% of Kenya’s beer market, according to Euromonitor. Karanja says she hopes to become a formidable competitor and gain 20% of market share.